Lisa Todd Wexley (Nicole Ari Parker) is shown in this week's episode of "And Just Like That."
This article contains spoilers for Episode 10 of the second season of “And Just Like That.”
In many respects, this season of “And Just Like That” has leaned more into the spirit of the original “Sex and the City.” It’s a marked improvement from the frustrating first season of the Max revival series, which haphazardly presented itself as a corrective for and an update to its predecessor — while not retaining the qualities of what made the original so beloved.
More and more, the characters on “AJLT” are having funny and candid conversations about sex, dating and relationships, a signature component of “SATC.”
So why, then, in this week’s episode, did the show tiptoe around the subject of abortion? It’s an odd choice, and uncharacteristic for a franchise that has often been trailblazing in its handling of hot-button issues. (The second season of “And Just Like That” is now airing as TV and film writers and actors, including those who worked on the series, are on strike over equitable pay and working conditions in the streaming era.)
On last week’s episode, Lisa Todd Wexley (Nicole Ari Parker) dropped a bombshell: She is unexpectedly pregnant. A documentary filmmaker, Lisa already has three children with her husband, Herbert (Chris Jackson), and they have their hands full, juggling their family and careers. At the start of Thursday’s episode, we learn that Lisa’s documentary on pioneering Black women has been picked up by PBS for a 10-episode series. Meanwhile, Herbert is running for New York City comptroller. Throughout the show, the couple has had tensions over Herbert not doing his share of child care and household tasks, an unfortunately common dynamic among heterosexual parents. And Lisa’s career is finally taking off, after having to put it on the back burner to raise their children.
Finally, late at night, she and Herbert have a conversation about her complicated feelings on the pregnancy, and how it would affect her work and the already precarious balance of their lives. After taking it all in, Herbert says, “Shouldn’t we be having the other discussion?” — without saying the word “abortion” — before affirming that he’ll support whatever she decides.
“I thought about it, but I can’t,” Lisa says. “I mean, I’m really grateful that I have that option, but … ” She trails off.
Later in the episode, Lisa discovers that she had a miscarriage, making the whole abortion discussion no longer applicable. Yes, miscarriages are an important issue to normalize on screen. But narratively, it felt like a bit of a cop-out, allowing the show to further sidestep talk of abortion. While Herbert gets points for expressing his support for whatever Lisa chooses, the rest of the storyline is disappointing.
Herbert (Chris Jackson) and Lisa in last week's episode of "And Just Like That." Lisa is struggling to balance her career with parenting their three kids and supporting Herbert's campaign for New York City comptroller.
It’s a missed opportunity, especially when considering the broader landscape of abortion plots on TV. Over the years, researcher Steph Herold has collected and studied abortion storylines in pop culture, whether it’s a character having an abortion, disclosing a past abortion or considering getting an abortion. When crafted with accuracy and care, putting these stories on screen can help destigmatize an issue that for too long has felt like, well, An Issue.
Lisa’s situation is common: In real life, about 60% of Americans who report having an abortion are already parents and perhaps don’t want any more children. But as Herold’s research has documented, that’s not often portrayed on TV, where the character having an abortion is usually a teenager. In addition, network procedurals like the “Law & Order” franchise often employ ripped-from-the-headlines stories that depict characters getting abortions in extreme situations. Even shows that do have a history of normalizing abortion, like “Grey’s Anatomy,” are prone to these tropes and missteps.
It makes sense for Lisa to consider the possibility of an abortion, and it would be noncontroversial to do so. But “AJLT” barely goes there, and that’s a letdown. It doesn’t necessarily matter what the outcome of an abortion storyline would have been — no one should have to justify their decision, and that includes Lisa. But it can be instructive for viewers to see a character have a direct conversation in which she really considers her choice, instead of what we got in this episode: a brief discussion that seems specifically designed to not offend.
Adding to the disappointment is the fact that the original “Sex and the City” would not have shied away from a frank discussion on abortion — and in fact, it had that conversation more than 20 years ago. In one of the best episodes of the series, Season 4’s “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda,” Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) learns that she’s pregnant after having a one-night stand with on-again-off-again boyfriend Steve (David Eigenberg). She plans to have an abortion, and Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) accompanies her to an appointment.
In the end, Miranda doesn’t go through with it. But the episode was still groundbreaking for its candor about the choice to have (or not have) an abortion, and remains so in the 22 years since it aired. Miranda’s storyline also gives the other women of the show an opening to talk about abortion: Carrie and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) reveal that they’ve both had abortions in the past, and it was the right choice for them.
In typical “SATC” fashion, the conversation all happens over brunch, further reinforcing that abortion can and should be something we talk about in an everyday context. Miranda’s discussion about her choice comes with an extra layer of complication because it upsets Charlotte (Kristin Davis), who, at that very moment, is dealing with infertility. But what’s important is that everybody’s choice is their own, and each character can talk about it without it feeling too thorny.
Kim Cattrall (left) and Sarah Jessica Parker in the “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda" episode of "Sex and the City."
Fast-forward two decades, and six unelected conservative judges decide that abortion is no longer a constitutionally protected right in the United States. It’s cliché to say “now more than ever,” but truly, now more than ever, we need to see TV storylines that treat abortion matter-of-factly. At the very least, we have to be able to say the word “abortion” out loud (something even the Democratic president rarely does). Talking around it further creates the impression that abortion is a delicate subject, a difficult dilemma, a third rail — when it is a typical experience for many people in America.
Sure, “And Just Like That” is meant to be escapist, so why wonder about the wasted opportunity of one brief scene? To channel Samantha in the original series, “Eh, coulda, woulda, shoulda.”
But we know that pop culture, in all of its forms, genres and tones, can help normalize issues, thus making them less of An Issue. “Sex and the City” was fun, but it also boldly (if at times clumsily) delved into meaningful discussions on taboo topics. I couldn’t help but wonder if the revival series could also break some new ground, rather than walk on eggshells.